Explain the concepts of religious language as analogy and symbol (30)
Language is an extremely limited way of describing God. When we begin to interpret God through words we start to anthropomorphise his metaphysical being, this results in different perceptions of God which shouldn't occur as something which is beyond our understanding cannot be 'this' neither can it be 'that'.
Some people believe that expressing religion through symbol is a resolution for the problematic understanding of religious language as it conveys religion through many interpretations, keeping the idea of a metaphysical being as it doesn't limit God. Paul Tillich argues that religious language is symbolic, not literal. He said that symbols are something that we can all participate in, citing a flag as an example, we participate in the feeling of unity surrounding certain national flags. Tillich stated that symbols do four things in particular: they point to something beyond themselves, they participate in that to which they point to, they open up levels of reality which are usually closed to us and they open up dimensions of the soul. Tillich simply named this 'theory of participation'. He argued that symbols help describe things that cannot always be expressed in words alone. The only way we can describe God in a meaningful way is through the use of symbols, for example, the cross is symbolic, and symbolises God's love for humanity, love and forgiveness, prayer and worship and Jesus's sacrifice. Tillich said that God was the ultimate symbol, calling him: "The ground of our being", this indicates that God is more fundamental to existing things, than anything else. He also argued that symbols can change and die out thanks to time and culture. An example for this is the fact that, because Jews used to sacrifice lambs, Jesus was seen as the lamb of God. This symbol was meaningful to them, but lost its meaning as time went on.
J. Randall agrees with Tillich, calling religious language symbolic and non-cognitive. He argues that religious language does four things: arouses emotion and makes people act, stimulates and inspires community action, allows someone to express experiences non-literally and clarifies our experience of God. Randall called God an intellectual symbol and called him: "A ripple of imagination".
Paul Edwards argues that symbols are meaningless because they cannot be verified or falsified thanks to their subjective nature, as they don’t convey any facts we are unable to prove that they are meaningful towards religious language. Another criticism is one of John Macquarrie's, he criticises Tillich but he does not criticise symbols. Macquarrie is an advocate of religious symbology, but suggests that there is no difference between a symbol in a sign. In the phrase 'clouds are a sign of rain', for example, the clouds are both a sign and a symbol of rain - we can't differentiate between the two. Macquarrie instead proposed the existential response, whereby he said...